Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) pulled on the best young rider's white jersey on the final Giro d'Italia podium in Verona, knowing that he was lucky to finish the race and claim his prize after hitting out at a spectator who caused him to crash on the final climb of Saturday's mountain stage.
The UCI rules are clear: Assault, intimidation, abuse, threats and unseemly behaviour directed at another person (including spectators), is punished with a 500 to 2000 Swiss franc fine, 10 to 100 UCI points penalty and elimination or disqualification.
Yet after Saturday's stage, the UCI judges gave Primoz Roglic a ten-second penalty for accepting a push from a spectator but there was no mention of Lopez on the official jury communique. Under recently revised UCI rules, pushing is no longer punished with a time penalty, while Lopez's actions should have been punished.
It seems the Giro d'Italia judges have been called to UCI headquarters to explain their decisions because the case sets an important precedent and will perhaps spark a much-needed debate about rider safety and worsening roadside spectator behaviour. After being knocked to the ground in a similar incident at last year's Tour de France and fracturing a vertebrae, Vincenzo Nibali called for more barriers and better rider protection.
Lopez lost 1:45 to his overall rivals on the stage and slipped to 6:18 down on Richard Carapaz (Movistar) but he got out of jail. He could and perhaps should have been disqualified from the race. Instead, Lopez went on to finish seventh in Verona after Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) moved past him in the final classification after the concluding time trial.
"It's nice that cycling is open for everyone, so fans can be close to cyclists, but I think there could also be a bit more respect became sometimes it's a quite big casino," Lopez' Astana teammate Jan Hirt said of the incident.
"For sure it's good that Miguel didn't break something and nothing happened to him. There should be more respect for use because we are doing more than 5000 meters of altitude in those stages and we are tired. I also know that people want to enjoy the race the race, so it's a difficult question."
Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli initially suggested Lopez should have 'punished' the fan even more.
"Riders are supposed to respect the fans but the fans are supposed to respect the riders, too," Martinelli pointed out.
"I think it's normal that he reacted as he did. He was on the way to winning the stage… I'm only sorry that he didn't give the spectator some more punishment, he deserved it for what he did."
Martinelli also went on to criticize Lopez.
"His reaction was wrong. I was surprised to see it because he's not like that all," Martinelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"He should have jumped back on his bike because he could have still won the stage. Instead he started arguing with that guy and lost at least 30 seconds. That was a mistake.
"Despite his mistakes, it's clear something has to be done to better protect the riders. What? I don't know. But something got to be done."
Lopez was just happy to reach Verona.
"I had some problems in this Giro. We prepared very well and I knew I had good legs from the start, but this is how it turned out," he told the Colombian media, who avoided returning to Saturday's incident.
"I had some setbacks but I love the Giro. I will come back to the Giro to try to win it. I don't know if it's next year or in a few years. I am proud of this white jersey."
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